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CO2 emissions hit record in 2012

Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels use hit a record in 2012, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

CO2 emissions rose 1.4 percent to 31.6 billion metric tons.

With its emissions rising 300 million tons, or 3.8 percent, China became the first country to reach 10 billion metric tons of emissions in a single year. The United States was second in terms of national emissions, but its emissions fell by 200 million metric tons due to a continuing shift away from coal power generation as a result of low natural gas prices.

In the aftermath of the tsunami, which led it to shutter its nuclear reactors, Japan saw its emissions rise 70 million tons.

The report argues that while emissions have been consistently rising since the industrial revolution, there are opportunities to cut emissions growth without harming the economy. It lays out four policies that could quickly lead to an 8 percent reduction from projected 2020 levels. These include investments in energy efficiency in the construction, power generation and transport sectors; restrictions on the construction of conventional coal plants; targeted reductions in methane releases; and a partial phase out of subsidies for fossil fuel consumption.

“We identify a set of proven measures that could stop the growth in global energy-related emissions by the end of this decade at no net economic cost,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, the report’s lead author, in a statement. “Rapid and widespread adoption could act as a bridge to further action, buying precious time while international climate negotiations continue.”

The report comes just days after the U.S. and China reached an agreement to reduce production and consumption hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a class of compounds that have been dubbed super greenhouse gases for their outsized climate impact.

Citation: International Energy Agency. World Energy Outlook Special Report, Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map. June 2013.

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